21 January 2000

Middle ground unsafe

SOCIETIES representing breeds which are dual purpose should decide what they want their breed to specialise in and advise members to breed for that goal if the breed is to have a strong future.

Getting the most out of animals requires specialisation, MLC beef specialist Duncan Pullar told the BCBC conference.

"Cattle used to be triple purpose – draught, meat and milk. Today theyre either meat or milk producers, and now beef animals are specialising in being either terminal or maternal sires.

"In future, breeders will look for cattle which have either maternal or terminal traits. This means that the middle ground – dual purpose – isnt a good place to be."

Citing the dairy industry as an example, he said that while performance of beef cattle had improved over the last 20 years – 400 day weights are 5% better – specialisation in dairy breed choice had seen milk yields rise by 23%.

Simmental, Aberdeen Angus, South Devon and to an extent, the Limousin, were beef breeds which stood in that middle ground and needed to decide what to specialise in, said Dr Pullar. "They are vulnerable if the industry becomes more specialised."

Terminal breeds

But he believed beef specialisation would go further than simply dividing breeds into terminal or maternal breeds; maternal breeds would be chosen to fit in with their environment. "Small cows will be chosen for hill or poor grazing and larger animals will be run on better land, matching breeds to their resources." &#42